Argos

A.H.H.M. Mathijsen

The life history of Alexander Numan (1780-1852) during his time in Groningen

Until the time Numan took on his professorship at the newly established Veterinary School in Utrecht in 1822, he had lived in the Province of Groningen. In order to understand why the minister of Public Education appointed a village doctor from the north of the country as professor for the practice of veteriary medicine, and after some years as director of the school, it was felt essential to investigate his earlier life period. The main sources used are two obituaries, resp. written by his son who was a professor of Law at Groningen University, and by his friend prof. Willem Vrolik who was the secretary of the Academy of Science, supplemented by family histories and some archival research. 
A short description of his descent, youth and education follows the main part devoted to his writings, his medical practice and membership of the Provincial Medical Commission and the Commission for Agriculture. In an appendix some genealogical data are presented on the family of his wife and their children.
Alexander lost his father, who was a minister of the Reformed Church, when he was ten years old. He received his education in the circle of family members. A brother of his father, also a minister, teached him Greek and Latin. After this uncle had left the province, he lived in the home of another minister who teached him the modern languages. As this man was involved in politics of the Batavian Republic, young Alexander was exposed to many discussions on the polity of the State. After his mother had remarried with a medical doctor, this man, and also his brother who had a medical practice in another part of the province, complemented the education with an introduction in the sciences. Experiences in their dispensaries, where some knowledge of botany and chemistry could be obtained, and discussions when accompanying them on their visits to patients, were decisive in the choice of his profession. Only at the age of twenty he entered the Medical Faculty of Groningen University. Thanks to the elaborate preparatory studies, he was able to finish in three years. In 1804 he defended his thesis on a pharmaceutical subject. Immediately afterwards he set up practice in a village nearby the town of Groningen. He married two years later Catharina Dorothea Star Lichtenvoort, daughter of a wealthy lawyer. They had two children, a son, born in 1807, and a daughter, born in 1808.
Alexander built a flourishing medical and obstetrical practice, extending over a very large area, He teached apprentices in his dispensary, translated articles and a book by C.W. Hufeland and published case histories from his own practice. Several lectures given at local scientific societies were published. One dealt with his thoughts on and experiences with animal magnetism, a topic very much en vogue in those days, especially in the Groningen Medical Faculty. In 1812 his translation of Allgemeines Vieharzneibuch by J.N. Rohlwes was published, showing his interest in veterinary matters. As the book appeared not to be satisfactory enough for the needs of the Dutch farmers, he was invited by the board of the 'Society for Public Welfare' (Maatschappij tot Nut van het Algemeen) to write an adapted version. This handbook (first ed. 1819) would receive many editions throughout the 19th century. This book, together with his capacities as a teacher, his broad interests in medical and agricultural affairs, great scientific curiosity and appreciation of colleagues met in the several commissions made him an obvious candidate for the new post in Utrecht. Although he felt it difficult to leave his beloved homeland and terminate his practice, he felt great pride in accepting the post that would give him the opportunity to found a new discipline in his country. 
To be useful to society was one of the great motives of his life.

Richard F.J. Paping
Development of animal husbandry in Groningen in the 18th and 19th century; a broad outline
This overview is mainly focussed on the clay area forming the northern half of the province. It is the wealthiest and most characteristic part, being cultured since the Middle Ages as testified by the many churches that even small villages were able to construct. About 1700 the provinve of Groningen enjoyed already a modern economy, fitting in with that of the other coastal areas of Friesland, Zeeland and Holland (the last mentioned was the richest region of the world in the 17th and 18th century). As aspects of modernity at that time can be considered: 1) the use of modern agricultural methods with higher yields per hectare and higher milk yields per cow than produced in the land provinces on the sandy soils; 2) Agriculture was aimed at earning money by selling of the prducts. In opposition to the farmers in the land provinces, who mainly produced for consumption by the own family, the farmers in the coastal areas produced for the trade; 3) A high degree of specialization was found in the rural areas. 30-40% of the families had own farms, 25% of the population were labourers, owing only small pieces of land and the rest of the working population had occupations outside agriculture (craftsmen, shopkeepers, shipmasters, merchants etc.). Whereas on the sandy soils practically every family owned a farm, be it mostly a very small one.
After reviewing the changes in the period under review in the distribution of land in use for the production of fieldcrops or for meadows for keeping cattle -always in function of the market value of the products- and discussion of type of husbandry (breeding, fattening, dairying) as far as cattle is concerned, and of the lesser significance of the other domestic animals, it is concluded that a relative decrease of the importance of cattle husbandry in the clay region during the 18th-19th century can be observed. Intensification of land use had a positive effect on crop-production. The much-heard opinion that the cattle plague epizootic of 1768-1786 caused a transition in land use through a switch from animal husbandry to arable farming, is not held by the author. Economic factors were of prime importance here. The introduction of fertilizer in the 19th century took away the necessity to keep cattle. And mechanization did the same for the horse in the 20th century. In some parts of the clay region, however, cattle husbandry returned in the second half of the 20th century, due to the low prices of the fieldcrops. The arable land is then transformed again in meadows. 
Attention is given to the role of veterinary care given by the farmers themselves and in a later phase by veterinary professionals.